Debate This: Clinton Exposes Mansplaining, Creates National Dialogue

Mansplaining is having a big year in 2016.

When the term “mansplaining” became part of the English lexicon in or around 2012, I was overjoyed. Not by the phenomenon itself of course. Until then the repeated experience of being overrun by arrogant male presumption had been a nameless source of dread, frustration and humiliation for women the world over. As a part-time adjunct English Professor and professional wordsmith, I know the power harvested by simply pointing to an injustice and naming it. The action takes a concept out of the shadows and makes it a tangible, something we can universally discuss.

Mansplaining is having a big year in 2016. Not that it was ever subtle, but we’ve also never had a qualified female, major party candidate running for the nation’s highest office. Almost from the moment Hillary Clinton formally threw her hat in the ring in April 2015, the misogyny (quite bipartisan, mind you), started flying from all sides.

Many liberal women were disgusted, but not surprised by the “Lock her up!” chants that fired up RNC 2016 delegates. The GOP has gone to great lengths over the last few elections cycles to assume paternalistic ownership and control over everything from our wages and voices, to our reproductive organs. As Samantha Golden of The World Can’t Wait! writes, “The theme, it seems, of this year’s Republican campaign is Rape: You Asked and God Delivered.  For them, giving birth in any circumstance isn’t redemptive enough for Eve’s sins.  We have to get raped and say ‘thanks’ to God.”

Sadly, we’ve become somewhat inured to the party of the old white male failing to consider us people. However, many females like myself who lean to the left received quite a shock over DNC 2016. Allow me to quote myself from late July:

“As a liberal American woman who’s tried to punch through a few glass ceilings of my own, this was one of the happiest, proudest weeks of my life. I admit this without mitigation, qualification or shame. I shared these feelings with a network of friends and family throughout the convention, and as expected, women of all political leanings came together to celebrate a communal flash of historical significance. What cheapened the celebration just a bit were responses from men I wrongly assumed were respectful and cognizant enough to skip the mansplaining. Just this once.”

This past Monday night Hillary Clinton delivered a knockout debate performance against her rival and misogynist-in-chief Donald Trump. Clinton’s complete mastery of subject, pacing and gravity were no surprise to anyone who’s ever watched the former New York Senator and Secretary of State tackle issues of substance over a 30-year career. Her preparedness is legendary. Donald Trump’s pettiness, undiagnosed ADD and ignorance are of equal fame. The debate went down exactly as expected, and markets and major media outlets almost uniformly declared Clinton the winner.

An unexpected outcome of Monday evening’s contest, however, were Clinton’s moments of genuine human warmth and adorableness (the Internet is quite taken with “The Hillary Shimmy”). And with a brilliant combination of patient smiles, blank stares and steely calm, she also singlehandedly did more to expose the foolish, insulting harbingers of mansplaining that American women endure every single goddamned day of their lives.

The New York Times Editorial Board (which is, I assume, male-dominated like most industry groups), couldn’t help but note this fascinating, subtle, authoritative social indictment. In Hillary Clinton’s Everywoman Moment, they wrote:

“On Monday night…women got to see Mrs. Clinton stand up to that common hazard of working while female: the sexist blowhard, the harasser…When Mrs. Clinton finally got to unload what felt like the pent-up frustration of Everywoman, it was powerful….The debate’s clash over gender was telling for both candidates, and it may have helped establish Mrs. Clinton as a standard-bearer for more than Democrats.”

It’s not like our experience only becomes legitimate if a man sees it. Women have never been the proverbial trees falling in the forest. But it doesn’t hurt to have cross-gender acknowledgment that what Hillary supporters have been saying is real, not merely sour grapes grousing over an imperfect candidate. The forces of misogyny have placed Mrs. Clinton in a series of boxes – a humorless usurper, a contender disqualified by a philandering husband, a frail old woman lacking “stamina.”

Inciting a national conversation about the scourge of mansplaining and the multitude of ways it devalues women as contributors and humans was as much as achievement as the continued exposure of Trump’s personal and professional weaknesses. Bring on debate number two. To borrow a line from another high-profile feminist, “We’re fired up and ready to go.”

Becky Sarwate is the current President of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association, founded in 1885, as well as Recording Secretary for the National Federation of Press Women. She is a national award-winning journalist, blogger, newsletter editor and theater critic. Becky lives in Chicago with her partner Bob and their menagerie of pets. Keep up with her at
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